Monday, March 5, 2012

JKey ... always our J-Man

  Late summer 1976. My relationship with Beatrice was growing. Was this the girl? Was this my future?
  I was wavering. I knew she had a 2-year-old boy; I could become an instant daddy.
  I wanted to meet him, and she brought Jason to my apartment. I opened the door and there he was, the cutest kid I'd ever seen, blond as could be, dressed in overalls, big belly, he waddled when he walked. He had a prominent dimple in his left cheek.
   Cute doesn't describe it. He was beautiful.
   He talked a little -- he could tell you he was Jason Shawn Key -- but that night what he mostly said was, "No, that's my mommy. I want my mommy. Don't touch my mommy."
     Talk about falling in love at first sight.  I've always joked that I really married Jason; Bea was just part of the package.
     Soon we were a threesome. He was sweet and animated, self-assured, a people pleaser, he behaved ... he could make you laugh with his animal sounds -- "dobble, dobble" and "ka-doo" were the best -- and his expressions such as, "Don't see me" and "forgot about it." Everywhere we went, people stopped to converse.
     I became "Nito," as when I first took him to the newspaper to visit and after about five minutes, he said, " 'Bout ready to doh, Nito?" Then I became Daddy Nito, and finally just, Daddy.
    It evolved into Dad. He was JJ at first, then at age 6, he came home from school and said he wanted to be "Jay" or "Jason." Later, when his school clothes had to be marked, his mother wrote, "JKey." So he became Jake, or the J-Man.
     He loved entertaining his Paw-Paw and Granny Shaw in Jamestown and his new Oma Ro and Opa Louis in Shreveport with his songs and his flourishes -- "tah-dah" -- and his bear-hunting in restaurants and, when deep in the woods, asking, "Are we too lost, Paw-Paw?"
     He was a good big brother to Rachel, five years younger; he was always curious, always wanting to try something new. He took to SPAR Stadium and Centenary's Gold Dome, and made them his own. He came in when I was watching games on TV and said, "Who we rooting for, Dad?"
      He began his soccer career at age 6 on a schoolyard in Hawaii. The first day his coach told his mother, "He's our franchise." He could run fast from the start, and he was naturally aggressive. He was always one of his teams' top players, though seldom the best. He just played; he didn't need motivation. Even with a maniac dad baiting referees, he kept his cool.
      He became a good junior high athlete, in football and basketball and especially track. Ran back an opening kickoff for Elm Grove Middle School for a touchdown one night with his mom, usually not demonstrative, screaming, "Go, baby, go!"
Jay as a high school senior.
     He didn't do a thing the rest of the first half, and Dad -- I swear I didn't do this often -- went down at halftime and had "a little talk" with him. On the second-half kickoff, he flattened the ballcarrier. Ken Kruithof and Bobby Marlowe, who had been coaches at Parkway High but were then the Elm Grove principal and assistant principal, looked at me sitting a couple of rows away and had a big laugh.
       At Orange Park High, Jay played soccer, mostly as a defender in his junior year because of his speed and tenacity, then up front as a senior. He scored 10 goals for a team that made the Florida Class 5A state semifinals. For me, the feeling of being so involved with a team brought memories of Woodlawn 30 years earlier.
      Through the years, he went to hundreds of games with his sportswriter dad, including trips to LSU football in the early 1980s. Couldn't get him that interested in the Yankees and Cowboys, but LSU caught his attention.
The Cajun Tailgators: Jason and Ann.
       Never a great reader but a conscientious student, he got plenty of help from someone in our family preparing for tests and projects. His grades were good and he thrilled us when early in his senior year, he announced he wanted to go to LSU. And he qualified, plus we got in-state tuition because his father (Jerry Key) still lived in Sulphur.
      He spent five great years at LSU, saw the Tigers bring back the magic in football and then lose it again. He graduated in 1997, immediately got a job in Dallas -- and he's been there ever since, through ups and downs in business and through a 10-year courtship with the beautiful Miss Ann, who he met early in their time at LSU.
Jacob and Kaden.
      He's still as intense an LSU fan as ever -- he's attended national championship games in football and baseball, an NCAA Regional in basketball in Atlanta. He's the No. 2 guy in a plumbing construction supply firm, a do-it-all type with amazing energy and business acumen, still a people pleaser, with a great number of friends and contacts. Ann has begun her Cajun Tailgators food truck business in Dallas-Fort Worth, and Jay is all in.
       Most importantly, Ann and Jason have curly-haired Jacob, 3, and Kaden 1, two blond boys who give me a sense of deja vu of the little boy I fell in love with all those summers ago.
     Jay turns 38 today, the boy now a man with a purpose.  But he's still sweet (although a bit more cynical) and self-assured; he's still our J-Man. And the dimple remains just as prominent.

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